Lizzie Armitstead has revealed the problems with Nicole Cooke and fractious aftermath of September’s World Championship road race in Copenhagen, which casts doubt on the ability of the women’s Great Britain road team to ride cohesively at the 2012 Olympics.

It also comes in light of Armitstead’s recent decision to focus solely on the road race in London next summer: she will be vying for team leadership with defending Olympic champion Cooke.

In Copenhagen, Cooke sprinted to fourth, while agreed pre-race team leader Armitstead recovered from losing position in a late crash to place seventh, crossing the line in tears. Cooke had been expected to lead out Armitstead in the race.

How did Nicole ride? “For herself, in my opinion,” Armitstead (pictured below) told Cycling Weekly. When asked how often Cooke works for other GB team-mates, she said: “I’ve never seen her work for a team-mate.”

In the post-race team meeting, Armitstead and GB boss Shane Sutton slammed Cooke. “I said exactly how I felt. And I’m really happy I did, because it’s been an unspoken situation for too long,” Armitstead said. “It needed to be out there. Someone needed to be honest about what was going on and why we didn’t win a medal when we were capable of doing it. I was really disappointed.

“I had support in that meeting. It was a unanimous decision that Nicole didn’t do her job properly.”
Cooke refutes Armitstead’s claim, underlining that she only sprinted for herself when she thought Armitstead’s chances were gone. “I rode for the team and according to instructions given to me. It was a very difficult race tactically with some unlucky moments, but these things happen in cycling.”

Asked if she expects to lead the team at the Olympics, she said: “Not at all, it will be quite simply judged on form in the lead-up to the race.

“I’ll ride for whoever the leader is and I’ve been doing this throughout the whole of last season for my team. Saying the same problem won’t happen again in 2012 is impossible as every race is so unpredictable, especially with crashes so near the end. That’s cycling. The problem doesn’t lie in the team.”

Benching a star?
If harmony cannot be reached ahead of London 2012, it is possible that Armitstead or Cooke could be benched to ensure a team whole-heartedly behind one leader. But not taking the reigning champion would be a highly controversial move.

“It is a sticking point,” departing British Cycling women’s manager Simon Cope admitted. “Lizzie is the fastest at the moment. In Copenhagen, Nicole had an armchair ride to the finish, she didn’t get baulked and she couldn’t finish it. Armitstead was coming from far back, you could see her speed. But on a heavy day with bad weather, maybe you’d go with Nicole.”

The men’s Olympic places are decided already, but the women’s team are right on the cusp of qualifying maximum places and need to consolidate their position with a strong spring next year. The final decision is made on May 31.

Road over track
After consulting friends and family, Armitstead told CW that she had made the decision to focus solely on the Olympic road race, eschewing her chances of glory on the track. “I think it is probably a better chance of a medal, but I don’t want to get a medal only to be unhappy. I’ve seen too many Olympic champions that still seem miserable with it,” she said.

Training in traffic around Manchester was “cracking” her, she added. Armitstead made her decision in late September following the National Track Championships.

For a full and frank interview with Lizzie Armitstead, buy the January 2012 edition of Cycle Sport, out in the shops from today.

For more on the Armitstead-Cooke dispute, look out for the November 24 edition of Cycling Weekly, out tomorrow.

Related links

Cycling Weekly’s London 2012 Olympic Games section

Lizzie Armitstead: Rider profile

  • Ken Evans

    2008 Olympics:
    Houvenaghel (2nd) vs Romero (1st)

    2011 Worlds:
    Armitstead (7th) vs Cooke (4th)

    “Underdog whinging”

    Armitstead had team mates riding for her,
    and she still couldn’t beat Cooke !

    Maybe Armitstead would stand a better chance in London on the track ?
    On the road she will have to beat Vos, Bronzini, etc !

  • Charles Rhind

    Lizzie Armitstead’s failure to win a medal in this year’s World Road Race Championship was her own fault. When the Canadian Carla Hughes was caught with about seven kilometres to go three British riders were well to the fore – Armitstead, Cooke and Martin. As the race entered the final three or four k. only Cooke is prominent, often riding in an exposed position to maintain her place. Watch You Tube – it didn’t look like an ‘armchair ride’ There were two crashes in the last two K. – a large group at the rear of the peleton and then a single rider out of the front twenty. I am not sure which crash held up Armitstead, but in either case she was well out of position. Cooke’s riding reflected the experience that has won world and Olympic titles, classics and a Grand Tour. 22 year old Armitstead’s riding reflected her lack of experience in dealing with the big hitters of women’s road racing when a big prize is at stake. If Mark Cavendish was as far out of position as Armitstead he might not have won a medal either. I think the timing of her comments is aimed at putting pressure on British Cycling at a point where she has made a personal decision with regards to her best chances of a gold medal in London 2012.

  • Dim

    Its been fairly obvious for years that Nicole had a bit of a superstar complex and wasnt to keen on working for others.. also fairly obvious that she wasnt too popular amongst other riders. Well done Lizzie for finally saying it like it is.

  • Dave T

    This is embarrassing. Armistead wasn’t there at the end of the race – simple as that. No point whining – and that’s the word – about it in such vicious terms after the fact. And that nasty dig at Cooke in the final paragraph ‘seen too many Olympic champions who were miserable’ is simply juvenile.

  • rykard

    Oh dear Ken, like it or not you are missing the point.
    These are profesional riders and they will be expected to ride to team orders, not for “whomever they like”
    Cooke was under orders but ignored Armistead’s problems for her own interests.
    The mens team demonstrated the value of team work and while i agree the womens race was boring thats a seperate issue.
    Your last comment is strange, your kind of sympathy and support is not very positive and unwelcome.

  • Ken Evans

    The 2011 Worlds women’s road race was pathetic,
    only one rider deserved a medal,
    and she wasn’t British !

    Only one rider can win the gold medal in London,
    if two Brits are in contention they can race it out.

    Their team mates can work for whomever they want to.

    It is likely that by the time of the Olympics,
    one British rider will have clearly better form that the others.

    The selectors should pick the strongest team,
    if there is a crash to the leader,
    then having another strong rider is insurance.

    The reality is that Cooke placed higher than Armitstead.
    The only GB rider to show any aggression was Pooley,
    and she did it far too early in the race.

    Considering how much support the GB women get,
    I don’t have much sympathy for complaints.